10 More Cleaning Tips from German Grandmothers

updated Jan 4, 2021
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Three genaration family preparing food in kitchen.
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When I need cleaning advice, I usually call my German grandma, who always has super-smart and unexpected tips from her childhood or her days as a 1960s housewife in Wisconsin. Her kitchen hacks have been so helpful that I decided to reach out to even more grandmas for old-fashioned, German-inspired cleaning inspiration. Here’s what I came up with after soliciting cleaning advice from fellow German folks. 

Read more: 13 Cleaning Tips You Should Steal From My German Grandmother

1. Boil Lysol water.

This one’s from my friend Sara’s German grandma. If you don’t have time to clean and want your partner or roomie to think you did, add some Lysol to water and boil it on the stove. The whole house will smell like you spent hours deep cleaning! (You can also try citrus rinds and cinnamon or cloves for a seasonal, all-natural vibe.)

2. Clean windows with newspaper.

My neighbor Maria’s German grandma has another good one: Instead of paper towels or a microfiber cloth, use yesterday’s newspaper to wipe Windex or your DIY solution from your mirrors or windows! Apparently, the paper used to print the news is super absorbent.

3. Or, clean them with diapers.

My friend Chris says her grandma would clean windows (or really any glass) with a diaper! Before you buy a pack of Huggies: Chris’ grandma used lint-free cloth diaper inserts (like these) to clean her interior windows and often dipped the rags in white vinegar to stave off pesky streaks.

4. Use lard as soap.

My uncle Scott told me my very German great grandma Caroline would use lard as laundry detergent. Sounds gross, but after a little research, I learned animal fat like lard and beef tallow are actually quite efficient at removing dirt, and people use it as hand and body soap, too. (That’s why the majority of modern soaps contain oil!) To make your own lard-based soap, check out this recipe.

5. Wax your hardwood floors.

If you have wood floors in your kitchen or dining room, take a cue from German housewives of the 1940s and ’50s and wax them weekly. My friend Chris’s grandma says after she scrubbed her floors with a solution of vinegar and water, she always waxed them to add a protective layer. Other than shiny floors, the main perk is that wax hardens into a seal that protects wood floors from wear. A floor polish like this, which contains beeswax, should do the trick! 

6. Air out your house.

Chris also relayed a clear memory that whenever she visited her grandma’s, the windows were often cracked open — even in the throes of an icy midwest winter. Turns out there’s a traditional German practice called “belüften,” where people air out their houses every morning by opening up the windows — no matter what the season! A perfect practice for banishing kitchen smells.

7. Wash your hands with oil and sugar.

For even more German cleaning inspo, I put out a call for pitches on a site for journalists. Tony Ericson, a co-founder of Workshopedia, says his late German grandma had a special recipe for cleaning dirty hands that he still uses to this day. Just mix a tablespoon of cooking oil and a teaspoon of granulated sugar, then, rub it all over your hands to remove grease or ingrained dirt from your garden. 

8. Use salt to tackle oily stains.

Natalie Barrett, a home cleaning expert with Nifty Cleaning Services, says her German grandma taught her a lot over the years about cleaning and home maintenance. One trick she still relies on is using table salt to tackle oily stains on clothes or even upholstery. Just make sure to pour the salt on the top of a stain before it dries, then launder as normal!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

9. Use cinnamon and vanilla extract to freshen up your microwave.

Growing up, Barrett saw her grandma freshen up her microwave with common pantry items: cinnamon and vanilla extract. She’d place a bowl of water with a few drops of cinnamon and vanilla extract in the microwave, heat the water until it boils, and then wipe down the inside of the appliance. 

10. Use an eraser to remove smudges from suede.

Put a common junk drawer item to good use with this tip from publicist Barry Schwartz’s wife, who was born in Mannheim, Germany. Next time you notice a smudge on a suede jacket, shoes, or furniture, just rub it hard with a regular eraser (remember those?) and watch it disappear!